February 21, 2019

Fighting back against Trump

A.G. Sulzberger finally had enough. So on Wednesday, the publisher of The New York Times fired back against President Donald Trump’s tweet that called the Times a “true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE.”

In his commentary, Sulzberger writes:

“The phrase ‘enemy of the people’ is not just false, it’s dangerous. It has an ugly history of being wielded by dictators and tyrants who sought to control public information. And it is particularly reckless coming from someone whose office gives him broad powers to fight or imprison nation’s enemies. As I have repeatedly told President Trump face to face, there are mounting signs that this incendiary rhetoric is encouraging threats and violence against journalists at home and abroad.”

This, of course, is not the first time Trump has lashed out at the media. He repeatedly uses phrases such as “enemy of the people,” “fake news” and “evil media.” He does it so often that we have become numb to it. But stop to consider what Trump has said, particularly in Wednesday’s tweet: that the Times is a “true’’ enemy of the people.

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Shouldn’t such accusations be reserved for real threats to the American people, such as terrorism, rival countries, racism and other inequalities? Such harsh words should not be directed at one of journalism’s pillars and an American institution. Trump’s inflammatory talk toward the Times and all media should not be met with rolled eyes, shrugged shoulders and a sigh that says, “Oh well, that’s just Trump being Trump.” Perhaps that is why Sulzberger did not let Trump’s tweet on Wednesday go by without comment. He wrote:

“America’s founders believed that a free press was essential to democracy because it is the foundation of an informed, engaged citizenry. That conviction, enshrined in the First Amendment, has been embraced by nearly every American president.”

Strange hire

She has no journalism experience. She worked the office of then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions. She once called CNN the “Clinton News Network.”

So why has Sarah Isgur just been hired by CNN to be a political editor? One theory is it’s CNN’s rather transparent attempt to claim objectivity against those who think the network is too left-leaning. In her column Wednesday, the Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan wrote:

“It strongly suggests that the network’s big thinkers — including head honcho Jeff Zucker — are aiming for the kind of false fairness: a defensive, both-sides-are-equal kind of political coverage that inevitably fails to serve the voting public.

This approach is not guided by what’s good for citizens, but by a ratings-first effort to position the network in the middle of Fox News Channel on the right and MSNBC on the left.”

However, CNN officials argue in a story by CNN’s Brian Stelter that there’s nothing unusual about someone going from a political job to a news outlet, using George Stephanopolous, Nicholle Wallace, Dana Perino and Tim Russert as examples. (Others include Diane Sawyer, Bill Moyers and William Safire.) That same source told Stelter, “The notion that (Isgur) isn’t qualified for this role is absurd.”

Maybe that’s true, but let’s leave the last word on this to the Post’s Sullivan:

“If you’re trying to deepen understanding, bridge the divide or do excellent journalism, this is one of the last moves you’d make.

As Columbia University journalism professor Bill Grueskin told me Tuesday, Isgur’s lack of journalistic expertise caused him to wonder ‘if Jeff Zucker would ever have brain surgery performed by a dentist.’”

How’s the weather?

People love weather — talking about it, watching it and even reading about it. Poynter’s Kristen Hare writes that when the Dallas Morning News covered big weather events, “audiences showed up.”

Nicole Stockdale, the DMN’s director of digital strategy told Hare, “ … we had indications that we could write even more and the audience would really appreciate that.”

They were right. The analytics showed that weather stories performed well and might have even boosted subscriptions. 

Several years ago, when I was a sports columnist at the Tampa Bay Times, I wrote a story about the diminished coverage of sports on local 6 and 11 p.m. newscasts. Several sports directors told me that local news broadcasts starting taking time and resources away from the sports segment so they could add time and resources to weather.

Stations made huge financial investments in weather equipment, including the latest radars with fancy names. The weather segment was moved up from the bottom of the half hour to one of the middle blocks and sports was shifted down. Stations added meteorologists and cut sports reporters.

The weather-first mentality also has impacted national nightly news where stories such as major snowstorms, hurricanes and earthquakes, wildfires, floods and extreme temperatures often lead the broadcasts.

Why? People love weather.

Gannett’s financial report

Let me turn it over to Poynter’s media business analyst Rick Edmonds for this item:

As expected, Gannett’s financial report on the last quarter of 2018 on Wednesday was a mixed bag but, on balance, disappointing again. Print ad revenues fell by 20 percent compared to last year and more of the same is expected in 2019. Circulation revenue was down by 4 percent, and the company operated just below break-even with a $14.4 million loss on revenues of $751 million. On a positive note, digital paid subscriptions at USA Today and Gannett’s 109 regional papers now total just over 500,000. Revenue from the company’s digital operations was up and so was digital advertising, especially national. Cost controls, which typically involve newsroom cuts, are likely to continue.

Check it out

Nothing definite, but “CBS This Morning’’ co-host Norah O’Donnell might be the next anchor of the “CBS Evening News’’ and the broadcast could move from New York City to Washington, D.C. Variety’s Brian Steinberg broke the story.

This is my favorite thing today: Slate’s Dan Kois with a tribute to the many faces of “Derry Girls” star Saoirse-Monica Jackson.

Atlantic contributing editor and Columbia University professor John McWhorter on What the Jussie Smollett Story Reveals.

CNN’s Tom Kludt with a breakdown about the tensions at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Popular Tampa Bay Times food critic Laura Reiley writes her last column for the Times. She’s moving on to the Washington Post.

Interesting story by New York Post sports media columnist Andrew Marchand: Yahoo Sports is experimenting with a subscription site that will cover individual Major League Baseball teams. Yahoo Sports is starting with the New York Mets, but is talking to other teams.

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Tom Jones is Poynter’s senior media writer for He was previously part of the Tampa Bay Times family during three stints over some 30…
Tom Jones

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